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The tracking of the developmental progress is the most important test the physician has in determining whether a child has cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy diagnosis is usually made during the first 18 months and up to the first three years of a child’s life. Parents are usually the first to notice the abnormally slow development of childhood milestones such as rolling over, sitting, crawling and walking. Abnormal muscle tone and unusual posture are also cause for concern with cerebral palsy diagnosis.
Cerebral palsy diagnosis is not always easy, since variations in child development may account for delays in reaching milestones. Doctors must first carefully examine the mother and child’s medical history in order to determine if cerebral palsy is the cause for developmental problems. Evidence of risk factors may aid cerebral palsy diagnosis and are usually taken into consideration first. A risk factor is not one of the causes of cerebral palsy but a variable which, when present, increases the chance of the condition and can aid in cerebral palsy diagnosis. If a risk factor is present, it serves to alert parents and physicians to be even more observant to the infant's development.
Asphyxia, or lack of oxygen during birth is also possible, and about half of newborns known to have suffered asphyxia during birth develop cerebral palsy. A viral or bacterial infection contracted by the mother can also damage the fetal brain. Rubella, otherwise known as the German measles, toxoplasmosis (often contracted through undercooked meat), cytomegalovirus (a herpes virus), and HIV are known to cause infections correlated with cerebral palsy.
Physical trauma to a pregnant mother or the infant can cause brain damage as well. Blows to the infant’s head due to an automobile accident, physical abuse or other such trauma can result in cerebral palsy. Also, maternal malnutrition and drug and alcohol use during pregnancy can be factors related to cerebral palsy. Rh blood type compatibility between mother and fetus is also a cause of cerebral palsy, with the chance becoming greater after the initial pregnancy. Complications during delivery are responsible for 20% of cerebral palsy diagnosis.
A physician must also test the child’s motor skills. Physicians can test for slow development, abnormal muscle tone, unusual posture, as well as reflexes and hand preference. In addition, several types of brain scans can be utilized in the testing process. A Computed Tomography (CT) scan can be used to reveal areas of the brain that are underdeveloped and other physical abnormalities within the brain. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can reveal areas that may not show up on a CT scan and also provide help with cerebral palsy diagnosis.
It is also extremely important that a physician rules out other disorders that can cause movement problems. In addition, physicians can test for additional disorders normally associated with cerebral palsy diagnosis such as mental impairment, seizure disorders and vision or hearing problems. Because the condition’s root can lie in the mother or child, it is necessary to examine the medical records of both for proper cerebral palsy diagnosis.